Wednesday, August 10, 2005

For the Homesick Cagayanons: A Tale of Land and More Land

Recently took a leisurely drive through the city's newest and third bridge in Taguanao, the barrio of my birth and erstwhile pasturelands of a few of the city's old families. The area is known primarily for the Huluga caves and the archeological excavations that have yielded many ancient artifacts, including some pottery shards dating close to the birth of Christ. A human skull of similar age now sits proudly in a local museum. And this fact caused quite a stir prior to and during the building of the bridge, which physically violated the diggings site slicing through it. Various civic groups loudly cried fouled but were eventually shouted down by the government in the person of the current peripatetic mayor, both endearingly and derisively nicknamed, Dongkoy.

Went along with a cousin whose family continues its fight for some 100 has. of "titled" land, which is traversed by the bridge and the access road, now embroiled in bitter legal suits arising from adverse claims filed by groups of squatters and other long-time residents of the area. Once upon a time, the entire area was public pasturelands leased to private individuals, or so I was wont to hear.

And a good part of my own youth was spent visiting this once pristine area, blessed with easy and close access to a then raging whitewater river and underground springs. I am told I myself was born close to the spot where the Lawndale Spring resort is now in existence and where we as kids used to spend carefree days camping out with relatives. A good part of the fun was travelling to and around the place since we rode horses provided by an uncle. We had prided ourselves as the original local cowboys, at times trotting and galloping around the Capitol grounds or even racing along city streets.

But now change brought on by time and man has altered the looks and lay of the land. The bridge and the access road now cut across like a sharp knife or stampeding bulldozer literally pushing aside and burying telltale vestiges of the past. Though at the present time, the bridge and the service road at both ends have not really generated the traffic expected that gave it their raison d'etre, their very visible presence have brought on both intended and unintended consequences.

Whether as a result of or because of the new bridge, they all remain to be seen. Some more nakedly self-serving than others. The former mayor, under whose administration the idea of a new bridge was broached, is now said to own, conveniently registered under other family members' names, large tracts of land in the area. And his family is said to not even be old Cagayanons.

But most others are definitely veritable toss-ups. Pedro Roa, Jr. has large holdings traversed by the new road on one side of the bridge. A half-sister, Araceli, subdivided certain tracts on the other side, closer to the city side. Of course, my cousin who inherited the property from his father. has his litigated piece neatly sliced by the road and littered with houses galore on both sides. Structures made mostly of hollow blocks. Unquestionable signs of permanency and obstinacy. Our very own Nene Pimentel lays claim to his own legacy there, fed by his greasy pork barrel, with the still under construction Convention Center, which straddles the range opposite that of Lumbia. The still skeletal remains of the building, ongoing for the last two or three years at least, tell the visiting onlookers that it may as well be a rusting white elephant, though continuing to exhibit some visceral movement. Visceral because a small skeletal crew continues to slowly pile away formed pieces of reinforcing bars and tons of concrete.

But without a doubt, from its vantage point one has a commanding view first of the great canyon hacked by the persistent river now many meters down the gorge. Then one can survey the city's newest growth area, the Lumbia area, boasting of the many posh subdivisions, XU high school, SM, Pueblo golf course, even a first-class memorial garden comparable with St. Peter's hoped-for accommodations for the sainted ones. And many more to come. The transfer of XU grade school for one. Maybe another phase for the already operating call center.

Definitely it was intended or expected that real estate prices in the area would quickly soar and they have. Thus, no need to get excited or rushed about where to buy bargain lots. I suppose there are no more. For the Aggies, I had asked about Porta Coeli. Does anybody remember? The area that Baging Arguelles was slowly able to parlay into one big tract that stretches all the way down to the river? I am told, it is still in the family, whole and undivided. Baging and family are now back in Negros. So, go figure what thoughts you want to think about its use.

The bridge itself looks quite inconsequential, short and narrow traversing a rather thin slice of river. The road is cemented, and looks better than the existing city streets. The meandering access to the elevated plateau where the convention center sits looks massive and enduring. But why so, in the middle of nowhere? Legacy, my friend. The fading billboard mutely tells it so.

And thus, my little sentimental journey back to the past ended, still undimmed and showing rays of mild expectations that the new area opened would provide for housing and space for an already burgeoning population.

What I've Found Out

Spent the last three hours surfing the net inside an Internet café full of boisterous teens, groping at things and realities that appear to me to be difficult to unravel and understand. Though the hours seemed long, I was deprived only of the use of 45 pesos, unbelievably cheap for one used to the high costs of technology.

Sites visited were mostly along the lines of email lists and web blogs of assorted persuasion and orientation. Though quite unscientific and maybe even, illogical, I had wanted to spend the time toward finding out more about the things and realities that continually irritate me like a mote in one's eye during my moments of solitude.

Understandably, the blogs I went to provided no discernible relief except to inform me that many people, educated and quite learned, continue to exercise visceral hate and/or dislike for certain things, people, country, etc, to the point of allowing their rather creative minds to be closed to any attitude, suggestion, or even inkling, that might suggest that they need to rethink their ideas about those things. One gets the sense that to do so would be tantamount to admission of signs of weakness, inferiority, or even disrespect. In my estimation, they have thrown acceptable logic out of the window, and replaced it with their own reasoned-out worldviews and absolutes. Mind you, these are the same people who will extol and embellish to the high heavens the perceived virtues of spouses, members of the family, children, loved ones, or anybody close with which they share the same attitudes and biases. My doubts about them and what they might write extend to their abilities to be impartial with things that might also affect me. Thus, reading them requires a bit of caution and justifiable reservations.

Anyway, the three hours spent were in my estimation quite purposeful and fruitful, since I did find out or discover if you may, new enlightenment about things and relationships that I am inexorably attached to on a daily basis. Enlightenment which may not have direct relevance to the last paragraph.

False modesty aside, as one respected member of an email list intoned, my usual social interaction in the home city of my birth has been with people considered part of the upper strata of society. People educated in the best possible ways available and considered members of the affluent and/or influential elite in the city. The false modesty exclusion covers my insinuation that I, too, belonged to that sector. And I do since truly as far as I can recall, most everybody else around me, at home, in school, and in social gatherings, have invested me with membership to that group. Whether justified or not is beside the point.

I find then that this precisely has been an integral part of my problems, not because it was wrong to associate with the group but because this gave me a rather skewed reflection of realities, absent exposure and association with the other sectors. The local assumption was simply that this favored group not only was the un-appointed spokesperson to articulate the hues and cries of the entire city, or country, but that only this group could know, articulate, or reflect society in general. But reality dictates that such is not the case. The lower strata of society have as much claim to this primacy, and maybe even more since they definitely are more in numbers.

Almost to the man, members of the considered elite have been quite unanimous in their negative prognostications about the state of the country, and this is quite congruently reflected in the ways they live their lives. Almost without ambitions tied up with staying in the old country. Bogged down with deep inertia about what to do with their lives to help themselves and others. And I do not have to go far on this, since regrettably some of my own relatives can be counted. Where the inaction, or call it paralysis, has reached to a point, where almost a parasitic relationship exists between those who have or can with those who largely through their own volition do not have or can’t. Parasitic in the sense that not only a sense of victimization but also that of entitlement to unqualified assistance because things are bad, have pervaded many people's thinking. If one's interaction is limited to this sector, it is easy then to acquire the same sense of frustration and desperation about the way things are.

But my little realization whispers to me that such is not the same in the lower strata of society. In a real way, they are thinking of, are motivated with, and moved to action to, the realities facing them as inevitable challenges, some more difficult than others, that they have to meet head-on. If they have skills, regardless how menial or inconsequential they may seem, they know that using those skills will help alleviate their present dire conditions. Seeking employment using those skills will be one way to go for them.

Thus, you find them everywhere. Newspaper boys and other street hawkers, risking life and limb every moment of their day, to earn a few pesos. Carpenters, masons, even gardeners, laundry persons, and maids, networking with their friends so they can be connected with households or businesses in need. Agricultural workers working for 70 pesos for every 8-hour day to keep body and soul together. Contractual workers everywhere, easily distinguishable by their clean and well-ironed uniforms, littering all big malls, doing service for peanuts and gratefully pocketing small tips so long as not seen by their employers or given outside their places of business. And countless others, too tedious to mention or detail, who toil day in and day out for measly wages and equally meager benefits if any, to bring home to their anticipating families. All in all, their number is legion.

A good and relevant question to ask is how these intrepid groups are taking it. Have they as one collective group become surly, grouchy, criminally inclined, unscrupulous, mean, and impolite, cheating, suicidal, desperate, etc.? Surely, there will be those who may fit any or most of the descriptive adjectives used. But as a group, or as they interact with their "masters" on a regular basis?

My own personal observations after my stay so far would belie any negative behavioral connotations about this collective group.

I have not witnessed as much diligent practice of basic courtesies, respect, and even humor, as I have witnessed in this group. I would find it hard to imagine that all this is all made up, fake, belabored or a show. My own personal observations with people I have met and dealt with over the years would assist me to easily expose genuine behavior from one contrived. Quite recently, I was privy to one such incident where an unintended inadvertence in a very innocuous email one-liner, had confirmed for me that a proffered public demeanor was meant to convey something the sender was not.

This then is my little epiphany. And thus, I have good reasons to believe and hope for that as more individuals, unmindful and oblivious of what others might say, search for ways and commit sweat and energy to better themselves and the people around their immediate circles, this country can be turned around, from the grassroots up, and not the other way around.

Let's end with a cliché. Light that solitary candle in the midst of darkness. No need to aim for a big candle, a little one will do. Just make sure it's a candle intended to light the way, and not a self-promoting sparkler whose light lasts only momentarily and shines only on the giver.